The New Reality: Microchipping Horses

Microchips could offer benefits beyond identification for your horse.

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It never crossed my mind to skip microchipping my cat or dog. For me identification was just a part of their routine health care, and for that I was grateful when four years ago my cat, Simon, escaped from my apartment when I was traveling out of state. Simon was missing for two weeks before he walked up to a good Samaritan, who picked him up and took him to a local clinic that scanned him and found his microchip. Irresponsibly of me, I hadn’t updated his contact information with the microchip organization in more than a year, but they were able to contact the veterinary clinic where it had been implanted and help reunite me with Simon within 24 hours. It wasn’t our Facebook posts or “Lost Cat” posters or trips to local shelters that did the trick. It was the simple and relatively inexpensive microchip.

Why, then, is it so much less instinctive to microchip our equine companions? A horse is less likely to “run off,” but there are many situations where having a way to positively identify a horse would come in handy. The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) has been using microchips for years to verify that horses entered in various high levels of sport are who the owners say they are. It was only a matter of time before the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and other organizations followed suit. 

Keeping track of points and wins helps keep horse sport fair, but microchips help with much more than that. They are a way veterinarians can protect themselves during prepurchase examinations to ensure they are doing the exam on the correct horse, and they protect the potential buyer in the same way. Microchips can be used to help solve disputes on horse ownership (if records are kept up to date) and to identify horses that have fallen victim to abuse or hard times or, heaven forbid, been stolen. Busy breeding sheds could use microchips to verify that the correct mare is being bred to the correct stallion. The possibilities are endless for a tool that allows people to distinguish between two gray horses, for example, that are identical besides their whorl patterns. 

Beginning Dec. 1, 2017, horses that will be registered with USEF and will be competing in age, experience, or breed-restricted classes must be microchipped. In 2019 this will include all horses competing at USEF competitions. The Jockey Club has also announced that it will require Thoroughbred foals of 2017 and later to be microchipped

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Written by:

Elizabeth Barrett, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS is a member of the sport horse team at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, in Lexington, Kentucky. She focuses on lameness and emergency care and is also a permitted FEI treating veterinarian.

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